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Barbara Lea

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Primary Instrument: Vocalist

Born: May 10, 1929    

Barbara Lea was born Barbara Ann Le Cocq in Detroit, Michigan, on April 10, 1929. Her family moved to the suburb of Melvindale in 1932. Times were bleak in the 1930s and she had her first job at the age of 7 delivering newspapers. She also took piano and tap dancing lessons. She went to public schools in Melvindale and in Detroit when the family moved back in 1940, and then later attended high school at Kingswood School Cranbrook.

Barbara's whole family was musical and there were always pianos and ukuleles in the house, which everyone took turns playing. Her father had been a clarinetist; her brother played trumpet and harmonica. The family entertainment was gathering around the piano and singing while her mother played. By the age of 6 or 7, she had decided on a career as a singer....
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Awards

1956 Best New Singer DownBeat International Critics' Poll

2009 Wellesley College Alumnae Achievement Award

”Twenty years ago a very promising young singer named Barbara Lea, who reminded some listeners of Lee Wiley, was beginning to make an impression on records and in clubs such as the Village Vanguard. But suddenly nothing more was heard of her-- because, it now turns out, she began studying acting to improve her presence as a singer and, through this, went into the theatre. Two decades have changed Miss Lea from a demure, sweet-faced college girl fresh out of Wellesley to a mature, assured, strong-featured woman. And her voice has grown to match her appearance. There are still echoes of Lee Wiley when Miss Lea sings, but her voice has acquired a depth, a deep velvet sound in her chest tones that carries smoothly into the upper register, enabling her to color her songs with exquisite shading and dynamics. Along with this, she has a jazz singer's ability to lift a dull song, to kick it into life after she has given it the obligatory straight first chorus. She almost invariably succeeds but her full qualities-- her easy range, her polish, her sensitive phrasing, the power she can call on-- flow brilliantly. There are some things that have to wait for their proper time. Miss Lea's singing seems to be such a thing and the time, finally, is now. She has become the exemplification of what most singers hope they will sound like but rarely do.” --John S. Wilson, New York Times, August 16, 1975

Barbara Lea has no superior among popular singers. -- Whitney Balliett, The New Yorker

Out of all the performers to be seen in New York clubs this weekend, none is more artistically distinguished than Barbara Lea...The foremost custodian of an easygoing jazz vocal style... One of the great jazz singers of our time... -- Stephen Holden, New York Times

Which brings us to the sublime vocalist, Miss Barbara Lea. A jazz singer in the grand tradition, she would be at home in any era, with any jazz group. Specializing in superior show tunes, she was effective in any setting that she was involved in during the weekend. -- Bill Garts, Meadville Tribune

A singer does not arrive easily at that stage in a career when she can be said to hold court during her nightclub appearances. Mabel Mercer was a prime example of one who did, and Barbara Lea, even without Miss Mercer's regal bearing, has developed that rare aura. -- John S. Wilson, New York Times

Lea was just short of astonishing. Closing a medley of songs from Porter's 1935 Broadway hit Jubilee with “Begin the Beguine,” she treated the tune to a novel reinterpretation by taking to heart its lyrics about romantic chances wasted and singing them with genuine feeling. ..The performance forced you to reconsider the virtues of a song you thought you'd have been perfectly happy never to hear again. -- Francis Davis, Philadelphia Inquirer

Aside from the sheer enjoyment of listening to superb music expertly executed, ...Barbara Lea can teach you more about music and about singing a song in one hour than you'll get out of a year of voice lessons. -- Bob Harrington, BackStage

Lea's voice and delivery, her beautiful intonation and interpretations are unsurpassed. Captivating... -- Phil Elwood, San Francisco Examiner

Barbara Lea is that rarity in this day and age, a singer whose voice is a musical instrument, whose reading of a lyric makes complete sense, who knows how to phrase and shade, has style, charm, and the ability to evoke the opulent glamour of a night on the town with caviar and champagne. -- Mike Butcher, Melody Maker, London

Barbara Lea, one of our finest singers, is simply superb in her rendering of the classics... a great actress... -- Bob Goodman, Cab Magazine

...her gift for understatement, her ability to invest a song with a subliminal jazz flavor while avoiding the trap ofbending it out of shape... She can sing “I Got Rhythm” as if she were unaware that it is not supposed to be a ballad, nor is it customary to whistle, as she did, an ad-lib solo in the second chorus... -- Leonard Feather, L.A. Times

She's terrific... a fine singer, with good intonation and excellent diction. She takes liberties with time and phrasing, but never to the detriment of the words. Even by cabaret singer standards, Lea has an amazing talent for seeking out fine songs, most from the '30s through '50s, with exceptional lyrics. -- Todd Everett, L.A. Herald

Her voice is mature without ever seeming old; it has strength, with a touch of fragile huskiness that adds humanity. She brings understanding and emotion to her material, but always with a subtle touch. -- On Stage

The glow on the New York cabaret scene seems to be especially bright these days... Lea is often classified as a jazz singer... While she has a jazz musician's understanding of and appreciation for music, her renditions are uncommonly direct and pure... with sensitivity, intelligence, and an artistry that is so commanding there is a majesty about it. -- Roy Sander, Back Stage

...quite different, quite special vocal gifts... a striking ability to make lyrics sound immediate... thoroughly inimitable... -- Peter Reilly, Stereo Review

Her voice has grown steadily in depth and resonance, and her timing and diction are flawless. She works by hand, and she is a masterly craftsman. -- Whitney Balliett, The New Yorker

  • Black Butterfly

    Self Produced
    2006
  • Hoagy's Children - Songs Of Hoagy Carmichael

    Polygram Distribution
    1983
  • Barbara Lea With The Johnny Windhurst Quintets

    Polygram Distribution
    1956

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Black Butterfly by Tom Pierce

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